Rhinos

Rhino PortraitThis month we are concentrating on the amazing rhinoceros.

Unfortunately, like many of the world’s most unique species, these amazing creatures are under a lot of pressure to survive, and three of the remaining five species are listed as critically endangered.

Read on to find out more about rhinos, their plight and what we can all do to try to make sure they are around for future generations to enjoy.

Sad rhino facts

With the western black rhino declared extinct in 2011, only five species remain:

Black rhino (Africa)

  • Estimated number left: 5000
  • IUCN classification: critically endangered

White rhino (Africa)

  • Estimated number left: 20,000
  • IUCN classification: not classed as threatened at the moment (hurray!)

Greater one-horned rhino (Asia)

  • Estimated number left: 2900
  • IUCN classification: vulnerable

 Sumatran rhino (Asia)

  • Estimated number left: 200
  • IUCN classification: critically endangered

 Javan rhino (Asia)

  • Estimated number left: 50
  • IUCN classification: critically endangered

Greater one-horned rhinoTwo major issues facing the rhino

1. The illegal rhino horn trade

This is the single biggest threat to the survival of the rhino. Although international trade in rhino horn has been banned since the 1970s, poaching is still a huge problem. In fact, alarmingly the WWF reported that poaching levels in Africa have actually increased dramatically since 2007.

This is because demand for rhino horn remains high, particularly in Asia where it is highly prized (it’s more expensive than gold!). Here it is considered by many to have medicinal qualities even though there is no scientific evidence to show this is the case.

This has led to the creation of highly organised criminal poaching groups. Enforcement agencies are struggling to cope with these criminal organisations, which are well funded and use highly advanced technology like night vision equipment, silenced weapons, tranquilliser guns and helicopters to kill rhinos.

2. Destruction of habitat

Habitat loss is another threat to rhinos, particularly in Asia. This loss is largely being caused by expanding agriculture and intensive (unsustainable) logging.

Black rhino South AfricaAnd the good news …

As you know, at Cool To Be Kind To Animals we also want to make sure we show you the positive things people are doing to help and to show you how you can do your bit.

WWF

When the World Wide Fund for Nature (formerly World Wildlife Fund) launched their African Rhino Programme in 1997, there were only 8466 white rhinos and 2599 black rhinos remaining in the wild. Today it is estimated there are more than 20,000 white rhinos and almost 5000 black rhinos. Great work!

The WWF also runs the Asian Rhino and Elephant Strategy and continues to work on establishing new protected areas, improving security monitoring to protect rhinos from poaching and improving local and international law enforcement to stop the flow of rhino horn.

What about rhino horn farming?

A number of researchers, including Dr Duan Biggs of the University of Queensland, argue that there is another way to protect the rhino: farming.

These researchers argue that if we start humanely farming horn and operating a highly regulated legal trade, we could undercut criminal gangs. They also point to the crocodile skin trade in Australia as an example of how a highly regulated legal trade can benefit a threatened species.

In theory, farming is possible because rhino horn is mostly made of keratin (a substance we have in our hair and nails) and if shaved off, will regrow.

But not everyone agrees this is the future. The WWF feels that places like Vietnam just don’t have the enforcement regimes in place and such a scheme would just provide a way of ‘laundering’ illegally poached rhino horn. There is also some concern about the effect of having no horn on rhino behaviour.

Interesting … What are your thoughts on this idea?

White rhino and baby in KenyaWhat you can do to help

1. Don’t buy rhino horn products

If you do receive treatment from a traditional Asian medical practitioner make sure that the products you are being prescribed are free from rhino horn. Rhino horn is traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments, so if you’re unsure – ask.

2. Use sustainable wood, paper and palm oil

Make sure you are not contributing to habitat destruction by purchasing sustainable paper, wood and palm oil.

With paper and wood, look for FSC, PEFC and Australian Forestry Standard certified or recycled products.

Avoiding unsustainable palm oil can be a bit trickier but is really important because it is threatening the survival of many endangered and vulnerable species, not just rhinos. Palm oil is in a huge number of cosmetic and food products but it can be hard to identify because it’s often labelled as vegetable oil in food or appears as a chemical component in cosmetics.

Initially, look for RSPO certified products but if you can’t find their symbol don’t get disheartened. Lots of global food and cosmetic brands like Unilever, McDonald’s and Johnson & Johnson are recognising that using palm oil is causing a big problem and are taking steps to ensure their products only contain sustainable palm oil. Why not check your favourite brands’ websites to see what their sustainability policies are?

For more information on sustainable palm oil check out the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil website.

3. Support the WWF’s efforts

Donate or learn more about the WWF’s great work to protect rhinos and other animals on their website. You can even adopt a rhino!

Get involved with CTBK

Like what you read? The Cool To Be Kind To Animals project needs your help to grow into a successful animal care educational movement. Please share this article to raise awareness of the plight of rhinos and the project.

You can also follow us via this blog, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Take care – of all animals! The Cool To Be Kind To Animals team

Information sources: WWF, National Geographic, BBC, ICUN, The University of Queensland.

Easter bilbies!

Bilby road sign

In Australia we are very lucky to have all sorts of cool and unusual animals, many of which you won’t find anywhere else in the world.

This month we are focusing on one of these animals: the bilby. It’s a cute, fluffy little marsupial that is unfortunately in a bit of trouble as a species.

Read on to find out more about the bilby, including what you can do to help make sure these endearing little creature have a place in our future.

 Fast bilby facts*

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The greater bilby (scientific name macrotis lagotis):

  • Is a nocturnal marsupial and the largest member of the bandicoot family.
  • Is an omnivore, meaning it eats plants and animals – bulbs, fruit, seeds, fungi, insects, worms, termites, small lizards and spiders.
  • Lives in a burrow, which can be up to two metres deep.
  • Has a very short gestation period – the female will be pregnant for only 12–14 days and, like a kangaroo, will initially keep the young in her pouch, where it will stay for about 75–80 days.
  • Used to have a sister species – the lesser bilby. However, the lesser bilby is now believed to be extinct (it’s hard to be completely sure in such a big country).

Issues facing the bilby

The main issue facing bilbies is thought to be non-native species, in particular feral cats and foxes. Bilbies need a few million years of evolution to be able to cope with the honed skills of these extremely efficient hunters and that’s just not an option.

Additionally, rabbits (another introduced species) are moving into areas that used to be occupied only by bilbies. Because rabbits breed so quickly, they are competing for food and burrowing space with the native bilbies.

The bilby could once be found all over Australia but today its population has dropped so much it is classed as a vulnerable species by the federal government. (To find out more about what that actually means, read our previous blog post about threatened species in Australia). Very sad news indeed.

Don’t feel helpless, you can make a difference

Now at Cool To Be Kind To Animals we’re not all about doom and gloom!  We also want to make sure we show you the positive things people are doing to help and even how you can do your bit.

1. The Save The Bilby Fund

The Save The Bilby Fund is a really cool organisation that is absolutely determined to save the bilby. They run bilby education and breeding programs and have also created a large predator-free area for bilbies in Currawinya National Park, Queensland. Learn more about their great work on their website. (Check out their cool fridge magnets too.)

2. Buy chocolate (no really!)

Pink Lady Chocolates has stepped up to fill the boots of Darrell Lea and is producing this year’s chocolate bilbies. (We’ve heard they are even tastier.) What a great way to celebrate this Easter AND help support the valuable work of the Save The Bilby Foundation. Click here for stockists.

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3. Get your cat neutered

We love kitties, but feral cats are a real problem for bilbies. There are millions of feral cats in Australia and we really need to make sure that as responsible cat owners we aren’t adding to this problem (for the sake of cats as well as bilbies). So, one thing you can do is make sure your cat is neutered as this will help to stop the creation of stray and unwanted litters and the spread of feral cats across Australia.

Additionally, if you have a cat and live in an area with a known bilby population, wildlife organisations suggest that you keep your cats inside, particularly at night, as this is the time they are most likely to harm the little creatures. If your cat does go outside, they also recommended that you put a bell on its collar as this can help warn bilbies they are coming.

Get involved with CTBK

Like what you read? The Cool To Be Kind To Animals project needs your help to grow into a successful animal care educational movement. Please share this article to raise awareness of the plight of bilbies and the project.

You can also follow us via this blog, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Take care – of all animals! The Cool To Be Kind To Animals team

*Source: Save The Bilby Fund. Chocolate Bilbies are Back image © Save The Bilby Fund

Threatened species in Australia. What can you do?

CTBK shutterstock_2819301 KOALADid you know that here in Australia it is estimated that 80 per cent of our animals and 40 per cent of our birds can’t be found anywhere else in the world? Now that’s cool!

But after being around for thousands of years, some of our amazing animals are finding it hard to survive in the modern world. Read on to find our more, including what you can do to help.

First, conservation categories explained

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is widely accepted as the leading authority on environment and sustainable development. To help explain these animal issues, IUCN has created the following categories to describe species that are in trouble:

  1. Vulnerable – this is bad; it means that a species faces a high risk of extinction in the medium future.
  2. Endangered – this is very bad; the species is at a very high risk of extinction in the near future.
  3. Critically endangered – this is very, very bad; the species is at extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future. It is one step away from extinction in the wild.

When governments or organisations say something is ‘threatened’ or ‘rare’ it generally means it falls into one of the above categories.

Here in Australia…

Depending on where you look, a species’ conservation status may vary, which can get a bit confusing. This is due to a combination of things, including the fact that:

  • Australia is so big – animal populations can vary a lot over 7.7 million square kilometres.
  • Australia has state and federal governments that have their own classification systems and laws.
  • People don’t always agree with each other.

Below are examples of some well-loved Aussie animals that are widely accepted as having problems.

Greater bilby

CTBK shutterstock_62954407 BilbyCroppedThis little guy used to live all over Australia but is now presumed to be extinct in NSW, classed as endangered in Queensland, threatened in NT, rare in WA and vulnerable in SA. Overall, the federal government and the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species class the greater bilby as vulnerable.

The reason? The biggest threat to the bilby population is thought to be non-native species. Feral cats and foxes are just too fast for bilbies and easily catch and kill them. Also rabbits compete for their food and burrowing space.

Tasmanian devil

CTBK shutterstock_12243208 Tassie DevilThese little critters are having a really tough time at the moment and the situation is so serious that Tasmanian devils are classed as endangered by everyone.

The reason? The wild Tasmanian devil population is under threat from a rare condition called devil facial tumour disease (DFTD), which is passed from devil to devil through close contact. Just to make things worse, Tasmanian devils are also hard to see at night and often get hit by cars.

Koala

Although there are larger populations in parts of Victoria like Cape Otway, the koala population is in decline, particularly in NSW and Queensland where it is classed as vulnerable. The federal government currently classes the combined koala population of NSW, ACT and Queensland as vulnerable.

The reason? The main cause of the reduction in koala numbers is thought to be the loss and fragmentation of their habitat and food – eucalyptus trees and leaves. Koalas are also at risk of being hit by cars and attacked by dogs.

What can I do?

Great question! It’s easy to feel a bit helpless, but you can make a difference!

1. Give your support!

There are lots of really cool organisations that have been set up to help.  Here are a few examples:

  • Save the Tasmanian Devil Program – working hard to understand DFTD and to find a long-term solution to the plight of the Tasmania devil.
  • The Australian Koala Foundation – has ‘Adopt a Koala’ and ‘Plant a tree’ programs aimed at increasing koala habitat.
  • Save the Bilby Fund – runs bilby breeding programs and helped create a large predator-free area in Currawinya National Park, Queensland.
  • WWF Australia – has an ‘Adopt an animal’ program aimed at raising awareness.

Visit their websites for more information about the organisations, their programs and all the ways you can help.

2. Keep your cat in at night!

At CTBK we love kitties but despite being cute and fluffy they can also be little killing machines – even when they are well fed! Not good for threatened birds and marsupials!

To help minimise the risk, wildlife organisations ask you to keep your cats inside at night, as this is the time they are most likely to catch little creatures. It is also recommended that you put a bell on your cat’s collar as this can help warn little creatures they are coming.

3. Drive slowly between dusk and dawn!

CTBK shutterstock_59214304 KoalaMake sure you slow down when driving at night, particularly if you see a road sign indicating that the area is populated by animals. Lots of our native wildlife is nocturnal, meaning that it is most likely to get run over between dusk and dawn.

Running over an animal is sad; running over a threatened species is a tragedy!

Get involved with CTBK!

The Cool To Be Kind To Animals project is in its early stages and needs your help to grow into a successful animal care educational movement. Please share this article to raise awareness of threatened species and the project.

You can also follow us via this blog, as well as on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

Take care – of all animals! The Cool To Be Kind to Animals team